Christian Perspectives on the First Crusade
29 SEP 2017
For Christians of the time, the First Crusade was seen as God's will, a call to defense of Christendom and eventually a retaking of land they believed rightfully belonged to Christians. Among modern Christians, there are both apologetic views and non-apologetic views. The Catholic Church, which has apologized for a number of past sins, does not believe the Crusades merit an apology.
1 The Climate
The First Crusade began in 1095 amidst a climate of extreme religious fervor in Europe, but the successful launch of the First Crusade was due to far more than a religious duty to come to the defense of Christendom in the East -- and later to take the holy city of Jerusalem. Douglas James of History Today wrote that the First Crusade was the result of "spiritual fanaticism" and "social realism." According to James, the Church's role was the "result of persuasive, almost obsessive, preaching and dogmatic manipulation by an aggressive Papacy."
2 A Call to Action
The First Crusade began at the behest of Pope Urban II with a fiery speech at the Council of Clermont in southern France. The call of the Crusaders, "Deus le volt," meant "God wills it." The First Crusade is still largely considered a defensive maneuver by Christians -- the Catholic Encyclopedia points to the destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 1009 and Christians being "cruelly persecuted" ever since. There was also concern about the Byzantine Empire losing ground to Muslims and the safety of pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem.
3 Christian Mindset During the Crusades
So why did the Crusaders not stop at defending the parts of Christendom under threat? Why did they continue to Jerusalem, which was taken in 1099? Christians at the time believed Jerusalem was rightly Christian, not Muslim, pointing to the fact that the area was converted by Jesus' apostles and was taken by military force in the seventh century. According to historian Giles Constable, this was "the attitude of most Christians in the Middle Ages and throughout the first period of crusading historiography."
4 Modern Christian Perspectives
The Catholic Church has apologized for numerous transgressions in the past, including the Spanish Inquisition, but has not apologized for the Crusades. Conservative author Robert Spencer insists that the First Crusade was a defensive action, and one that was "long overdue." Others, such as the founders of the Reconciliation Walk, a trek by Christians from Germany to Jerusalem in the 1990s, believe the Crusades were a horrible mistake.